Beauty that’s more than bark deep: improving Madison Avenue with more street trees

Midtown Project to plant trees to improve and beautify Madison Avenue

“Summer is Hot, but the Shade is Cool,” says’s project, aimed at improving and beautifying a part of Madison Avenue in Midtown for national PARK(ing) Day next Friday, September 16th.

It would seem obvious to say that trees are nature’s coolant, providing shade on hot summer days and absorbing the heat of the sun, while also performing that life-sustaining task of photosynthesis, pulling carbon dioxide out of the environment and giving us oxygen.

In the urban landscape, street trees – more than just beautifying our streetscapes – do all that and so much more.

“To some, street trees might seem like an attractive but ultimately unnecessary urban feature,” wrote Laura Dorwart for a 2018 Strong Towns article (“Why Street Trees are so Essential for our Cities”). “When we walk our streets, many of us—especially those of us lucky enough to live in places splashed with green and lined with flowers—probably take urban trees as a given.”

“But ample research indicates that that’s a mistake,” Dorwart wrote. “Street trees provide plenty of pragmatic benefits in terms of urban planning and environmental wellness, such as shade from heat and relief from humidity, making streets more walkable and bikable and lowering the average electricity bills of surrounding households. . . They improve air quality and decrease the circulation of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and ozone. . . They also lower the average driving speed, making roadways safer for pedestrians and drivers alike. There’s even evidence that they improve the health of nearby residents, lower crime rates, and drastically increase property values in an area.”

As Strong Towns reminds us, street trees are essential to a city’s environmental health. And for National PARK(ing) Day, is poised to add a few street trees to a stretch of Madison Avenue in Midtown, between Avalon and Angelus along the north side of the street fronting Cash Saver.

“Did you know walking under trees can be at least 10 to 15 degrees (˚F) cooler?” says’s Karen Leibovitz. “Cities all over the world have realized that trees keep us cooler, our air cleaner, and our surroundings more beautiful.”

Madison Avenue has seen its share of improvements in the Medical District and Overton Square, but as reminds us, this section of Madison deserves more attention.

“Madison Avenue through Midtown was redesigned in 2011 to add bike lanes and on-street parking,” Liebovitz wrote in an Op-Ed for the Commercial Appeal. “The on-street parking lane in front of the Cash Saver is used regularly as a passing and turning lane by speeding cars heading west on Madison, which can be lethal for pedestrians. Over the last decade, City of Memphis records indicate close to 500 crashes in this area resulting in more than fifty-four recorded pedestrian injuries and one death.

“Clearly marked crosswalks and narrowing the flow of traffic would help tremendously. Painting and landscaping the parking lane would do wonders for pedestrians. Not to mention make it clear that this lane is not for vehicles. Large self-watering planters could be added in the underused parking lane as well as the underused portion of the Cash Saver parking lot, possibly in the triangles at the end of each row of cars. has created a conceptual improvement plan after holding multiple meetings and conversations with adjacent property and business owners and neighborhood association representatives.”

This year’s event marks the second by the group, devoted to maintaining the authentic character of Midtown. Last year’s event was held in the same location, and attracted dozens of interested Midtowners.

Last year’s event

The group’s long-term goal is to make the area safer, more attractive, and to strengthen its sense of place. Their hope is that the community and commuters eventually see this area as a place Memphians care about.

“This area of Madison is the heart of Midtown Memphis,” wrote Liebovitz. “It is seeing a population increase due to the addition of the Madison Midtown apartments and the reemergence of Minglewood Hall, as well as several other projects and developments in the area. However, the area has been neglected and is a danger to pedestrians, bus riders, scooter riders and bicyclists. Walking across Madison at Angelus or Avalon is more than a challenge – it is quite precarious or even dangerous.”

“We can do better,” says Liebovitz. kicked off the project with the help of a grant from Memphis City Beautiful and assistance from The Works, Inc., and will next focus on planting a dozen more trees along the east side of the Cash Saver parking, on Angelus. In Phase Two, they will be working with city engineering to redesignate the on-street parking to a no parking zone, adding large planters, and improving crosswalks.  

With the Friday, September 16th event, will be continuing their “Shade is Cool” campaign and honoring PARK(ing) Day by talking to the public about the project and collecting more comments and suggestions.

Mark Fleischer is a longtime board member of

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